Penn spreads Ivy roots to China with Mandarin broadcasts

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Michael Wang’s parents live in the northern China city of Taiyuan and had to listen to English-speaking broadcasts when their son led Penn to an upset over national champion Villanova and scored 23 points against Miami.

“They can’t really understand what people are talking about,” Wang said.

His highlight reel does the talking for the Penn freshman forward.

But that will change this weekend when Penn will start to broadcast its home men’s basketball games live in Mandarin on ESPN-plus (in the United States) and Stretch Internet (internationally). Tencent, a gaming company, also will simulcast the Penn broadcast to its millions of viewers in China.

Penn has more than 1,700 Chinese students enrolled at the Ivy League university and more than 15,000 alumni living in China. The biggest — truly — Chinese standout on campus is the 6-foot-10, 215-pound Wang. Wang, son of Juan and Bing Wang, was considered the top recruit in this year’s freshman class and has battled injuries to average 9.7 points and 3.8 rebounds for the Quakers.

“Those first couple of games, we saw the following that he had,” Penn associate athletic director Kevin Bonner said. “There was a large student-body contingent, even at our first game at George Mason. The administrators who were on that trip said he had almost a rock star following on a road game. We know how important basketball is in China and we think we’ve got a young man who’s going to be pretty good for us.”

Bonner, a long-time fixture with stops at multiple schools on the Philly hoops scene, brainstormed with colleagues earlier this season about maximizing that exposure through Mandarin broadcasts. The Chinese Students & Scholars Association was able to get the ball rolling and assembled a broadcast team fluent in Mandarin and bright in basketball: Jintao Fu, a Ph.D. student in materials science and engineering from Shenyang, China; Xiaoyong Jiang, a master’s student in materials science and engineering from Changzhou, China; Zhefu Peng, a master’s student in electrical engineering from Shenzhen, China; and Yan Wu, a master’s student in electrical engineering from Beijing, China.

There was an unpublicized broadcast last weekend as sort of a test run and Wang, whose native language is Mandarin, listened to the replay on Thursday.

“I know all the students that do it,” he said. “They did a great job.”

The Mandarin broadcasts are scheduled for Friday against Columbia and Saturday against Cornell, and March 8 against Yale and March 9 versus Brown.

The Mandarin broadcasts are part of Penn’s mission to increase its brand in China. The Penn football team will spend a week in China next month. The Quakers will play the American Football League of China (AFLC) All-Stars in the Penn-China Global Ambassadors Bowl on March 9 in Shanghai.

The ESPN-plus streams could add to Wang’s growing profile in his home country. Wang moved to California when he was 14 and settled at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana where the program went 112-20 in his four seasons.

“It was tough on my family at first for me to come over here as a kid,” he said.

Wang, who attended middle school in Beijing before coming to America, was recruited by Penn coach Steve Donahue and blossomed into a key contributor for the Quakers (15-9). He played last summer for the China U18 National Team in the FIBA U18 Asian Championship in Thailand. The fans he made can now tune in and listen in their native language. Penn hoped to keep the broadcasts going beyond this season.

“I just enjoy the feeling playing with my country’s name on my chest,” Wang said. “Especially after last year in the Asian championship, more people got to know me a little bit. They try to watch as many games as they can. I think it’s a great opportunity.”


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